Friday, November 19, 2021

The Nice People Network

Selfish people feel overly generous. Generous people feel overly selfish.
[from here]

A public radio show some years ago did an episode on the "Nice People Network," postulating an invisible association of good people who do favors for each other. The narrator hoped to crack into it so he could get lots of free stuff and special treatment and generally advance himself. He completely missed the point...which explains why the door shut on him and he didn't get anywhere.

If you're trying to score freebies and special treatment to advance yourself, that's not being a nice person. That's being an asshole. Well, self-advancement, alone, doesn't make you an asshole. But the pretense of trying to milk nice people for special treatment certainly does. It’s like trying to sneak into the Fresh Breath Club after munching raw garlic.

The network exists, though there are no handshakes or ID cards. But it won't advance you, because it’s for nice people, who, by definition, don't try to advance themselves at others' expense. So while, yes, you get free stuff and special treatment, you'll wind up giving more than you're getting. Likely way more. Because that's what nice people do. That's their nature. (See the pithy tale of the frog and the scorpion.)

I'm not talking about nice-seeming people, who rub your shoulders and tell you how awesome you are, and who have 12,000 Facebook friends, and who'll never, ever come get you at 2am if you break down on the NJ Turnpike. I'm talking about genuinely nice people, who couldn't imagine not helping...but who don't make a show of it. Genuinely nice people often seem crusty, curmudgeonly, and un-empathic (autistic people are often very, very nice, even though "normal" - i.e. nice-seeming - people deem them unempathic because they don't make the faces and utter the platitudes which signify sympathetic characters in this movie most people imagine themselves to be in).

There are bars, for example, where I drink free. It's not because I'm Captain Awesome. It's because I tip really high and knock myself out for staff and other customers. There's one place where I used to sneak into the kitchen after-hours to whip up home fries for the house, or bring dozens of fancy chocolate bars for bar-wide tastings with strangers, or, in the aftermath of local tragedy, anonymously had free drinks brought to anyone looking particularly down.

I wasn't shooting to become free-drinking bar MVP. And it didn't leave me ahead. It just (partially) repaid my generosity, allowing me to ramp it up further. I tipped way more, brought still better chocolate, and bought even more drinks, because I had a fuller tank to draw from. It became very expensive - nearly ruinously so - for me to go there. But that's how the Nice Person Network works.

Are you surprised? If so, why? Can you not parse the notion of genuine niceness? Is it so odd to learn that niceness is about you making it nice for others, not luxuriating in other people's niceness-making?

It struck me as a virtuous circle: I got to enjoy free drinks while enabled to give more. Sometimes kindred spirits recognize that a person can be counted upon to act this way without needing to establish, like, some agreement. That’s when one gets this treatment. That’s how the Nice People Network works. With Nice People, nothing needs to be said. An asshole, by contrast, would consider the whole thing a vicious circle. A trap. Two steps forward and three steps back!

I'm long resigned to my essential selfishness. At heart, I’m a real asshole. I have genes for that, so I don’t really fight it. When I spot the opportunity to come out ahead, I pounce. And I enjoy my win - the acquisition of free stuff or of special treatment. I relish it! My incisors drip with villainous glee! And then I happily drive 50 miles to buy that person some certain cookie. Or spend hours trying to solve a problem for them. If the opportunity arises to give, I eagerly pounce. And I relish it! My incisors drip with villainous glee! It's the same exact instinct. No difference at all. I surrender to the virtuous circle, whoozily taking and taking and taking.

God help you if you ever hit a hole-in-one at a Japanese golf club. You'll owe drinks to every single club member (even if there are hundreds of them). Most foreigners would view this obligation as a kooky cultural quirk, and might swing slightly off-center on their tee-shots. Nice people, by contrast, would see it as a fun way to share good fortune. Win/win!

Here's the funny thing: I don't know anyone who ever went broke from being nice. You can absolutely go broke with grand gestures if you're a nice-seemer. Buying Camaros for each of your peeps to demonstrate that You’re The Man or whatever. Stoke your legend or whatever. But genuinely nice people, who are too crusty, curmudgeonly, and un-empathic-seeming to be noticed (again, this network is invisible), occupy every economic rung. They make out just fine.

See also this

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